A View of Santhigiri Ashram

A View of Santhigiri Ashram
Lotus Parnasala and Sahakarana Mandiram , Santhigiri Ashram, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Sweet Reminiscences from the Memory Lane

From the Memoir of Navajyoti Sri Karunakara Guru (Guruvani)

A large crowd of souls, who had lived and died, wandering as devotees completing the first or second stages, is seen reflected in the form of souls yearning to attain the celestial Deva stage as they have completed the stage of two-and-a-half. After crossing the fifth stage, when one enters stages of five-and-a-half, six and seven, the mystical experiences of astral planes would end. When these planes are transcended, one would have crossed the heavenly star clusters. It is said of such people that out of lakhs of people, who have had such mystical perception, only one or two become true seers.

In the fundamental nature of the life of great souls - belonging not only to the Hindu, but also the Islamic, Christian, Jain and all other noble guru lineages - one can invariably see the luminous procession of their dharmic and karmic imprints, aglow with great sacrifices. History stands proof that their contemporaries never understood or respected these great souls. (However), in those lives marked by great sacrifices, in life-times earned by virtuous births that were wholly spent for the sake of humanity, the role played by certain householders who had neither intelligence nor education remains as a stirring memory for the entire world. These humble, virtuous souls observed their dharma, earmarked to householders, as offerings in the model of the benevolent pronouncement of Krishna to Arjuna, ‘Take Refuge in Me Alone’.

In the life of my Guru* also, he had only a few ignorant disciples including me as his sole earning in life. Several people have shared the sacrifices of my Guru. But the hardships undertaken by one or two householders will never get erased from the memory tracks. Only a few householders can perform their dharmic duty truthfully and with total dedication when it comes to playing whatever role they have in the life of a sage, in line with the dharma of a householder. The people who helped me during my spiritual wanderings were possessors of such dharmic qualities as would remind one of the dharma observed by Kuchela.

‘Muthappan’ and his wife were a perfect model for the truthful essence of life. They lived in a street at Petta paying a monthly house rent of Rs. six. Their only means of livelihood was a bullock cart. Both husband and wife were disciples of Guru. They also treated the other disciples of Guru with utmost devotion and respect. Their devotion and reverence had become an epitome of total love that never deviated from the observance of dharma. This couple possessed hearts brimming with sacrifice when it came to fulfilling the wants of Guru and his disciples. Whatever these may be, they were eager to know their needs and fulfill them wholeheartedly. They had four children too.

I remember even today certain things Guru used to do with them. Even while the hunger of those six stomachs existed, the dharmic strictures Guru imposed on them can never be expunged from life’s memories. To play a role in the lives of great sages worthy of the definition of that epithet in the world, it was confined to these two souls. They were wealth in the form of disciples in the life of Guru. When I think about them, the memory salutes (them), filling the mind with overwhelming love and warmth. I think it is essential that the entire humanity should know about them.

Those days, whenever I went to meet Guru, on all those occasions they brought for Guru whatever he wanted to eat. They would also unfailingly and in a just manner feed those accompanying him. They were most elevated karmis (performers) in the principle of ‘sankalpam karma manasa’ (resolve in action and thought) and souls in the forefront of (performing) dharma. Three of Muthappan’s children were studying in school while the fourth was an infant. This bullock carter fulfilled the necessities of Guru and his disciples along with those of his own children. They slept on the floor on jute bags in their makeshift shack which had only sackcloth in the name of a roof. Only memories of great warriors of heroic action could thrill us like this. Those children, though ignorant, possessed an unreserved mind to give. One cannot forget the truth they had shown through their lives.

One day, Guru called them out from a group of disciples praying with closed eyes and said in Tamil mixed with Malayalam. “I want to go to the samadhi of Guru this evening. I don’t have the fare”. Muthappan readily got up and agreed to do the needful. He went and sold the bullock cart and brought the money. From the next day, he purchased the supplies from the traders in Chalai and Pettah and distributed them by head load. We can see him then as the most faithful servant of his master and his most beloved. Those days there were no problems of labour, owner-worker clashes or sabotage. Whatever the owner gave willingly, the worker received with pleasure. It was such a time.

Let me state what I felt about the situation. I felt that Guru had no kindness in his heart. The day that he said there was no money to go to Guru’s Samadhi, he had with him stuffed in his pocket and the four corners of his waist belt a sum of Rs. 674, when counted. Those days this amount was sufficient for two persons to go to the samadhi at Thanjavur and return. With so much money in his hand, he told them that he had no money. Pained by this word, the poor man went and sold his bullock cart and arranged the money for him. What else, but cruelty, could I think of this act. Whenever Muthappan was a little late in coming, Guru would arrive at his house along with the disciples anytime after sunset. They would eat whatever was available in the house – tapioca, black tea or porridge - and lie down on the jute bags and sleep.

In the morning Muthappan could be seen hurriedly going to the shops for buying breakfast for Guru and the disciples. On seeing him thus struggling pitiably, I used to wipe my tears unobserved by Guru. A man who had no name or fame worth mentioning, who had not earned the respect of society, for that man and his disciples, why should a householder, whose life was bare, undertake so much sacrifice, I used to think.

One day Guru told me, ‘Now you may go only after having experience’. Then he called and took money from Muthappan and went to Thakkala, taking me along. He sat under a mango tree in the lawns of the Thakkala Munsif court and called for Sri Parameswaran Pillai who was working as a Process Surveyor in the Munsif court. He came running from a nearby shop. Guru asked Parameshwaran Pillai to call all his disciples there - Meeran Pillai and eight others - who all belonged to different castes and religions. As per Guru’s instructions, all these people were brought there before 9 p.m. He praised me in front of these people and said, “All of you should come and sleep the night here from tomorrow’.

It was midnight on the third day from then that I unburdened my ignorance before Guru. It was nothing else, but about Guru’s behaviour of extracting money from Parameshwaran Pillai and Muthappan, causing them much agony.

Suddenly he shouted, ‘Hey!’ He was visibly upset and said, “There is no need to see whether these people are rich or poor. I am making them slog so that they may earn some virtue. Most of these householders come to fulfil their selfish desires and not because they have any aspect of sacrifice. Why did you think that they were like you? You have the experience of running and supervising an institution, undergoing pain and sacrifices in life. They have no such experience. Out of many people, only one or two may have the mind to do something benevolent. Parameshwaran Pillai, before coming to me, had ruined himself by selling his property worth Rs.2.5 lakh and squandering the money on drinking. Though Muthappan was not a drunkard, he had some other drawbacks. Only if they undergo some pain like this, the blemishes in their life will get erased and some blessedness would come, at least in the life of their children. Before coming to me, the life of these people was very bad. Virtuous people should have undergone all this (pain).

Swami gave no importance to rebirth, however he accepted that rebirth was a truth. That night he said, “Only after passing through many births, as per the ways of Hindus or Muslims, a visionary stage could be reached by a householder. Therefore, washing away the dirt of these people is what I do. If you do not understand, you will be realizing it soon.” After speaking thus, he fell silent.

The following day at 3 a.m., some invisible power struck me. Suddenly, I felt myself shrink like a small ball. Every pore was getting torn. My body came apart like a custard seed. That moment Guru strongly hit me and asked, “Were you afraid?” “Not internally, but my body is sapped off all strength,” I said. “Alright, take it easy. But there is hope,” Guru said.

Subsequently, he asked Parameshwaran Pillai to take leave. (At that time), I had memory and awareness but did not know how to act. (For instance), I did not realise that I should move aside on seeing a vehicle coming on the road. I could not understand why Parameshwaran Pillai was asked to take leave. Three of us would wander about. Swami would tell us one or the other story, halting here and there. Sometimes, it would take one-and-a-half hour to cover a mile-long distance. On reaching some temple on the way, he would ask me, “Hey, look there. What do you see?” He would repeat the question to Parameshwaran Pillai too.

On the eleventh day, we were taken to the samadhi of Peerukannu Sahib. At the entrance itself, my legs began to shake. In the ten or fifteen minutes that we sat there, lakhs of evil spirits and gods (devas) were seen arrayed up. A large number of ‘jinns’ also were seen. On seeing all this, I called out to the Swami. Pepper, salt, fruit, jaggery etc. were being brought there as offerings. During our visit itself, eight bunches of banana were brought. From these, we got eight bananas each, which we ate.

Strangely, on our return, Swami was quaking with laughter. He talked about spiritual visions and their aspects till midnight. He said, “This is a work for removing the misery of society. When you get the vision of Chattambi Swami and Narayana Guru, it should be informed to me. You should inform me when you see the pithrus (ancestral souls) and deities ranging from Vellala Chetty to Idiyas (communities). I have something to explain to you.” At that time also, he was praising me, but the others did not like this.

On the 21st day, Swami told us a story about the samadhi on top of Kattuva Sahib hill. He asked Meeran Pillai, who was from Thakkala, whether he knew about the significance of Peerukannu Sahib. He replied in the negative. Peerukannu Sahib was a person who accompanied Kattuva Sahib, a Hindu sanyasi. Both of them lived on that hill. One day Kattuva Sahib attained samadhi. The road was at least two miles away from there. There was no other route. It was difficult to carry the body, as it was heavy. Peerukannu Sahib picked up big stones and piled them up on the body. It took three days to complete the job. It was to protect the body from jackals. What is seen in Peerukannu Sahib is this blessedness.

Eleven days after this, one night, Swami began to praise me again. Some disciples, who were piqued by this, refused to go further with him. A trip was planned to Kattuvasahib hill taking along some provisions of fruit and water. Swami, five others and I climbed up the hill. On reaching the top, we sat under a banyan tree. Parameshwaran Pillai got up and said that the apparitions of countless evil spirits, gods and sanyasis were passing by. But, I could not see anything. I saw only a smoky light filling the entire place. All in the group announced that they had seen some things at several places. However, I did not have any visions.

After this, Swami made hurry for the return journey. Although everyone was tired, all of us began to walk fast. I had been going about without a bath or wash for several days. My sole possessions were the dirty shirt and dhoti that I wore and an umbrella. Swami took away my shirt, dhoti and umbrella. He dug out a cloth from his shoulder bag that looked like the stole of a cabaret dancer and asked me to put it on. I wore it. He then hit me and shouted, ‘Run, you!’ Though wary about my destination, I ran, and looked back only after running for a furlong.

The expenses of all the people on that day were borne by Parameshwaran Pillai. His total salary was Rs. 45 per month. The cost of the purchases in the provision store would have been at least Rs.700. His wife lived at home with only one sari to protect her honour. Thus this Parameshwaran Pillai and Muthappan were the benefactors of Swami. The two families showed such surrender and a disciple’s call of duty, even while living the simple lives of householders. In that manner they upheld the greatness of the Guru-disciple relationship! How did they perform it! In front of the grace shown by these two families, which had neither education nor wealth or anything of significance, I submit this with a prayerful heart.

Muthappan, after the samadhi of Swami, bought land and built a house. The children were married off and all of them now lead comfortable lives. One of them is in the police while another owns a truck and is the leader of head load workers.

When compared with the magnitude of the sacrifices undertaken by my Guru, I did not even know what sacrifice was during my spiritual wanderings. Let me narrate here certain aspects of my Guru’s struggles. He did not in the least forsake the duties as per Islamic custom. Every day, he taught in four Arabic schools by turn. At the age of 27, death had suddenly whisked away his wife and children. For a good devout, it was an opportunity to immerse into a life of renunciation.

Guru had understood from books about the places from which the state of samadhi could be roused. He had thought about a suitable place too for this purpose. Besides, there was the samadhi of a guru at Thanjavur which he had resolved to adhere. Apart from this samadhi, he had mentioned to me about three or four masjids, one of which was Nagoor Masjid in Valapattanam. Which of these places should one accept as the Guide?

There is the Channakara Thodu (a canal) which flows south to Ambalathura and further west to Poonthura. There is a bridge before reaching Poonthura. In the vicinity of this bridge, there is a place interspersed with forests, bushes and barren spaces. This place is known as Samadhikara. If one travels about two miles down the road south of Beemapally going through Samadhikara, Poonthura comes. This is a road in a coastal area with only a few fishermen living on both sides.

To the west of Pettah is Chakkai. To the south of Chakkai lies this barren land. One can hear the prayer calls from Beema Masjid and Vallakadavu sitting here. Guru normally sat at this place. Hardly anyone travelled by this path. People were afraid to walk down south by the banks of this canal. Women never travelled this way. There were reasons (for this). It was a place for dumping the bodies of the people who died in violence and clashes which were common those days in every nook and corner of the town (Trivandrum). This place was also the home of a certain breed of dogs known as ‘Chenkottai Pattikal’. They had extraordinary long tails. The mere sight of these dogs was enough to frighten a person out of his wits. If this dog finds a person alone, it will lunge and place its raised forelegs on the victim’s body and start biting wherever it pleases. That man will collapse dead there itself with extreme terror. Once dead, the dog will drag away the body. It was in this bushy area that Guru performed penance (tapas).

He would observe penance for 41 days without any food. Even for defecation, he would sit in the bush itself. He would not get up from there but would only change positions. After a week, there would be no urine or feces to empty and so no need to move. When 41 days are spent thus without food and water, the body would be desiccated like dried ginger. As there would be hardly any blood, the body would start swelling. Just like the reflection seen on the glistening surface of a brass pot or bowl, reflection of the people walking at a distance could be seen on this body. After another 41 days, the body would again get shrivelled up and appear like a wizened round substance. With this type of penance, he discovered what type of samadhi states could be roused. Within a period of six years, he undertook three such penances and experienced samadhi and discovered different aspects of mystical visions. This was the method Guru adopted for actualizing spiritual realization.

Subsequent to this, he got a book which was the size of a matchbox. This book was a record of the type of places where one could awaken the samadhi. He had shown me that book. The book also described the spiritual states which could be actualized in the samadhi places (tombs) like Nagoor Masjid, another mosque and samadhi at Thanjavur, Beema Masjid etc. It was also seen that there was certain uniqueness to these places. The route north west of Kanyakumari by the sea coast or otherwise lies in the equatorial zone. The Gandhi Memorial is established (there) based on this. Once in a year, through the mirror on top of the memorial, the sun’s rays will pass on to the samadhi. (The equator passes through some parts of Singapore also).

To the north, the equatorial zone covers places like Valapattanam and Nagoor. The luminescence of the equator, which divides the globe into the south and north hemispheres, is felt at some places up to a width of 300 miles. It is in these places of equatorial influence that samadhis and mosques are founded. The scientists had built the Gandhi Memorial keeping this in mind. These places are considered to have a unique spiritual brilliance. After crossing the Arabian deserts, going further north-west, this luminosity will gradually diminish. The avadhootas (spiritual wanderers) travel (there) realizing this enhanced spiritual luminosity in these places. The places where the sun’s rays fall more would be warmer. Avadhootas and their samadhis are situated mostly at such places. Guru had explained this subject to me reading from the aforesaid book.

When we stayed on the seashore, he would wake me up at 2 a.m. and tell me that an auspicious hour was approaching (brahma muhurtam, the auspicious period from 3 a.m. to 6 a.m.) Then he would loosen and spread the wigwam (a shack) meant for keeping fishermen’s nets. Next, he would heap up sands to protect the flame of a big candle, by the light of which he read from that book in Urdu and explain the meaning. We slept in that shack itself.

It had been mentioned in that book that the excessive crowding of avadhootas near samadhis was owing to the beneficial effects of the sun’s rays. Among his disciples, Guru taught this knowledge only to me. He did not show this book to the others but only said that there was such knowledge in books. In comparison with the extreme pains undergone by Guru, it is needless to mention that in my whole life until then, I had not even known what was struggle.

Avadhootas, after wandering a lot, die sometimes without reaching the goal. There are many such people who lacked the self virtue to reach the goal. Some would reach up to a small aspect in samadhi. Some others may reach a quarter-way on the path. There are some who fulfil this through two or three life times. In the life time of a person, samadhi could be experienced only three times at the most. The time length for awakening the samadhi is eighteen-and-a-half years. Even if a soul is born virtuous, at least seven-and-a-half years would be required (for this).

‘Pratyakshavaham Dharmam’ – this saying in the Gita discloses that through a variety of mystical (visionary) aspects, samadhi could be experienced. Whatever it is, only a person who has roused a samadhi state at least three times in this manner could fulfil the mission in this direction. My Guru explained to me these matters while the other disciples were not near. He taught me after midnight between 12.30 p.m. and 6 a.m. There are some hidden aspects in the nature of secrets in the process of awakening the samadhi. However, those things cannot be explained here. What I am trying to explain here as sweet reminiscences from the memory lane is the truth of a life which bloomed in gracious munificence and in the depth and expanse of love. It is with the desire that if at least some people, to their measure of virtue, realise this, be there that much good.

Normally what happens is that when the avadhootas reach a thousandth part of the sun’s brilliance at the equator, they face death somewhere down the path. Few out of the billions of such souls reach the second, third, fourth or fifth stages (in spiritual realization). There are a few samadhi places of such souls. From the 3rd stage onwards, there will be less trouble (for the spiritual aspirant) from the people.

A large crowd of souls, who had lived and died, wandering as devotees completing the first or second stages, is seen reflected in the form of souls yearning to attain the celestial Deva stage as they have completed the stage of two-and-a-half. After crossing the fifth stage, when one enters the stages of five-and-a-half, six and seven, the mystical experiences of astral planes would end. When these planes are transcended, one would have crossed the heavenly star clusters. It is said of such people that out of lakhs of people, who have had such mystical perception, only one or two become true seers.

The souls, dead and stagnant after attaining the second stage, are those who have died displaying wonderful feats or those who were made to display miracles after being tricked by visions (by inimical spirits in spiritual planes) when it is found that the person is an avadhoota progressing in the path of vision. Such souls having become insensitive to honour and dishonour present themselves as the storehouse of great and wonderful teachings. It is about such yogis, who perform miraculous feats, Kumaranasan said thus:

‘Like the winds, like toddling infants,
Like maniacs, like a stark illiterate,
Transcending delusion, discrimination and the miraculous,
The Yogi Strides on’
(Free translation from Malayalam)

The majority of the populace knows about only such persons. These people live for 700 or 800 years through ‘kalpaseva’ (a medico-mystical method used by siddhars). They wander about thus performing miracles and get trapped in some spiritual chasms. Those who do not have the knowledge of ‘kalpaseva’ take to the life of a renunciate performing miracles in the aforesaid manner and go about as if they were beyond all rules.

If we travel in the direction of South Travancore from Kanyakumari we could meet people who narrate several wondrous tales, relating to such yogis, shrouded in mystery and miracles. An example is the miraculous depiction of a person known as Komba Swami. It is said about him that he took samadhi at seven places. They mention that finally he took samadhi at Thengapattanam and after that nobody saw him.

Another person who has been depicted in this way was a woman called Mayi Amma, who wandered like an avadhoota. When Sri Narayana Guru slept under the chariot of Sucheendram temple, it was seen that the organs of this woman were caught in flames. With this narration, she became a historic figure. There is also a story that Sri Narayana Guru gave her a mango. There exists a similar lady in Kanyakumari who goes about naked and lives in many ways. I have heard people calling her too by the name Mayi Amma. A rich man had even built a memorial (mandap) for this Mayi Amma to the north of the road going west from Kanyakumari.

There are innumerable such stories to my knowledge about Kattil Swami, Vatti Swami, Chatti Swami, Mannenna Swami, Kesavan Sanyasi, Ayya Swami, Sambrani Swami, Samadhi Thopp, Manakkad Samadhi, Kalladi Masthan and Kaniyapuram Thangal in Thiruvananthapuram region.

There are several popular myths about certain other elevated souls who have undergone ‘kalpaseva’ and also about Pakanar of Parachi Petta Panthikuralam, Naranathu Bhranthan and Thiruvalluvar. Apart from them, Subramanian, his spiritual mentor Bhogar and Hidumban et al are protagonists belonging to this miraculous tradition. There are so many people throughout Tamil Nadu who narrate such wondrous stories. There are the Subramanya devotees who take out big processions displaying wondrous performances such as piercing themselves with different types of tridents, walking on nail sandals, pirouetting with various types of ‘kavadi’ (decorated temple carriages) like Agni Kavadi, Pal Kavadi, Matsya Kavadi, Garuda Kavadi etc. People consider all these as significant performances.

Narayana Guru and Chattambi Swamikal had performed miracles, though for a short period. There are also some ascetics, who following the examples of the great gurus, have performed certain miracles. Thrissur Pampu Swami, Shubhanandan and Swayam Prakashini are people belonging to this group. Prior to the present lady known as Vallikkavilamma, there was another woman who in a state of trance did divination. Some swamis who had lived with her for two or three years could be seen wonderstruck by their own narration of the several stories about her.

The history of Ochira also is no different from this. A group of masseurs known as Ochira Vaidyas built a mutt there with a statue of Kabir Swami. It could be seen from the Ochira ground (Patanilam). It seems that the mutt is now hidden because of the (surrounding) buildings. Like this, people with some degree of mystical perceptions have been hooked by the wondrous feats narrated by pundits. The history of such people, who have spent their life desiring to master miraculous performances and mystical visions, are available throughout India. Due to the aforesaid spiritual perception, one can see billions of souls who have got stuck spiritually without reaching the goal. What had been pointed out earlier is this fact mentioned by some. There is no dearth of Vedantic scholars who, giving importance to magical tricks, siddhi (miraculous acts) and the methods of pranayama (Hathayoga), eulogize such persons as seers in their writings.

Ishavasya Upanishad mentions the allegory of a sealed golden vessel from which luminous rays are reflected. The Mandukya Upanishad also mentions a similar simile of a large lighted torch, which when rapidly whirled around in the night and seen from a distance, gives the feeling of a big fireball. We have scribes and scholars who get greatly amazed by the talk of such miraculous occurrences. It is through such writers and scholars that the Devadasi tradition, which existed till recently, got cemented by the tapestry of mythical stories authored by them, leading to the giving away of girls into debauchment under a Deva. There are such places even today, known as ‘Koothambalam’, where libidinous singing, dancing and story recitals take place. One such place is Koothuparambu in Thalassery.

I mentioned these matters for the realization of all those with a spiritual inkling. Persons who take to the spiritual path aspiring for self-realization go astray by the visions of such fallen souls. Therefore, I seek forgiveness from the souls, thirsting for self-realization, for the delay in conveying the reminiscences from this memory trail. I utilize this occasion to remind you of the blunders that might happen while you proceed to honour the blessedness of the duty of gratitude to God.

This erroneous position has come up to (the level of) the myth of Padmapadar, who came to save Sankaracharya, the one extolled as the universal Guru, from a murderous sorcerer wanting to behead him. I wish blessedness to you in the name of God, reminding the truthful servants of God once again not to be like ordinary persons, who wriggle in some make-believe pit, and not to become baffled by losing the sense of direction with the illusory sighting of water owing to a mirage and also not to get misled entering into erroneous ways mentioned above in this memoir.

*Sufi saint Khureshia Fakir popularly known as Pattani Swami, who lived near the Beema Masjid south of Thiruvananthapuram, guided Navajyothisree Karunakara Guru in the initial stages of His spiritual quest.
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